Strategy: Take Care of Yourself from Morning ‘til Midnight

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America compiled this list to fit the nine components of the “Caregiver Wellness: U Model©.” Eboni Green, Ph.D., RN, co-founder of Caregiver Support Services, Omaha, developed this conceptual model to empower caregivers to achieve optimum wellness. The components are social, psychological, physical, intellectual, spiritual, occupational and financial wellness, plus the empowerment and resilience, or flexibility, necessary for you to take charge of your health on a holistic basis. (Note: Many of the strategies overlap categories)

  • Social
    • Cuddle with a pet—yours or a friend’s!
    • Connect with an old friend on Facebook—and catch up!
    • Join an online Scrabble group.
    • Invite a friend to laugh the stress away with a comedy movie.
    • Share your experiences with fellow caregivers—in person or online.
    • Skype or live chat with a licensed social worker.
    • Meet a friend for lunch.
    • Find out about respite care grants, volunteer respite “buddies”; then go out and do something for yourself.
    • Join a Web site where you share caregiving responsibilities, messages.
  • Psychological
    • Sip a cup of hot chocolate while re-reading your favorite book.
    • Where is your “thinking place”? Spend some extra time there today.
    • Savor the past with old family movies.
    • Make a scrapbook.
    • Revisit a hobby or favorite sport.
    • Write in your journal.
    • Practice stress-reduction techniques.
    • Pace yourself.
    • Dance to your favorite rock music or simply relax to classical music.
    • Pay tribute to a loved one by crafting a panel for the AFA Quilt to Remember.
    • Wrap a gift and give it to yourself.
    • Take yourself out to lunch.
    • Soak your feet or take a bubble bath.
    • Pick one room of the house to de-clutter and organize.
    • What “speaks” to you? Go do some of your favorite things!
  • Physical
    • Catch some Zzzz’s: Sleep an extra half hour.
    • Be health smart: Make a doctor’s appointment for yourself.
    • Do aerobic exercise, preferably with a friend to enhance social engagement (a double win!).
    • Enjoy a 10-minute at-home spa treatment.
    • Comb cookbooks/online sites for healthy recipes.
    • Take deep breathes.
    • Eat some “comfort food” in moderation.
    • Take a 30-minute brisk walk.
    • Cook your favorite meal—and take the time to eat it.
  • Intellectual
    • Absorb as much knowledge as you can—and apply it!
    • Read the “36 Hour Day.”
    • Be creative: Write a poem about your feelings—and submit it to
    • Seek out resources to learn all you can about Alzheimer’s disease.
    • Attend a workshop about providing personal care.
    • Listen to support group participants’ tips on successful strategies—and use them.
  • Spiritual
    • Embrace nature: Watch the snow fall.
    • Do a selfless deed.
    • Feel the power of prayer.
    • Use visualization to return to a good “place.”
    • Sing your heart out in a choir.
    • Give thanks for good days and wonderful memories.
    • Take time to just sit and do nothing.
    • Read an inspirational book or poem—even if only a few pages a day.
  • Occupational
    • Bright ideas: Check your company’s employee assistance program.
    • Figure out what you need to juggle work and caregiving.
    • Learn about the Family and Medical Leave Act and use it when necessary.
    • Talk to your employer about implementing caregiver-friendly policies, if not currently available.
    • Talk with co-workers who understand caregiving on breaks or over lunch.
  • Financial
    • Crack open the piggy bank: Locate grants/programs to assist with caregiving costs.
    • Organize your legal and financial papers.
    • Think about your retirement fund.
    • Familiarize yourself with Medicare, Medicaid and insurance policies even if you do not need them right now.
    • Consider a long-term care insurance plan for your future needs.
  • Empowerment
    • Give yourself a thumbs up! Recognize your strengths.
    • Do that thing you’ve been putting off—and enjoy the relief when it’s done!
    • Trust your instincts.
    • Jot down what you want the New Year to look like.
    • Consider sharing your caregiving experiences—speak to a group or participate in an online discussion board.
    • Serve as a role model or mentor for a family caregiver.
    • Advocate for legislation that helps families affected by Alzheimer’s disease, increases research dollars, etc.
  • Resilience
    • Shake your family tree: Be willing to share the care with others.
    • Leave lists of ways people can help by the phone, so you are prepared to accept help when someone calls.
    • Time management: Work out a realistic daily schedule.
    • Set boundaries: Learn to say no.
    • Focus on what you do best rather than fret about areas where you would like to improve.
    • Promise yourself a guilt-free day: You’re just “one” person.

Strategy: Heading Off Burnout

Virtually every caregiver is a front runner for burnout. Becoming educated, adjusting your attitude, carving out time for yourself and taking practical steps each day can help you get ahead of it.

  • Learn the signs. You can’t avoid what you can’t recognize, so become familiar with the signs of burnout. These include: physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, persistent fatigue, or weight gain or loss; emotional symptoms, such as numb or explosive responses, feeling low self esteem, withdrawal, or an increase in drug, alcohol, caffeine and tobacco use and/or use of prescription drugs; mental symptoms, such as feeling bored and somewhat lifeless, changes in memory or the ability to concentrate, excessive worrying or disinterest in activities you usually enjoy; and social symptoms, such as withdrawal from friends, family and society or reduced self-care (bathing, hair, general appearance).
  • Look at the positive. Avoiding burnout has a lot to do with attitude. It helps if you do not view caregiving as an obligation or chore, when you enjoy a sense of personal fulfillment from your role, and when you focus on what you do have rather than on what you’ve lost.
  • Be realistic. Since “the familiar” no longer exists, don’t let unknown or unrealistic expectations contribute to burnout. This includes being realistic about what you can accomplish in any one day.
  • Become educated about Alzheimer’s disease and caregiving. The more you know, the more confident and effective you will be in handling responsibilities and ensuring the safety of your loved one.
  • Surround yourself with others. Burnout may intensify when there appears to be no one who understands what you are going through or who will support you in ways that are helpful to you. This includes sharing as many caregiving responsibilities as possible.
  • Live in the moment. Appreciate where you are and where your loved one is at this time. Make a plan. Having a plan related to daily living and long-term care helps effectively deal with the frustration, depression and sense of hopelessness that is typical of burnout. Share as many of these responsibilities as possible.
  • Develop coping strategies. Review the strategies you have used before in other situations and assess their value to you now. Does taking a walk around the block or doing yoga help relieve stress?
  • Keep roles in perspective. As a caregiver for a parent, it is wise to recognize that your roles do not reverse. Your parent remains your parent, and, like all people, deserves to be treated with respect, even if you are in charge of feeding or bathing him or her. Concentrate on your own health. Eat healthfully, exercise daily, get sleep, journal or do other creative therapies to express emotions
  • Join a support group. Support groups provide an outlet for your emotions and are also a good way to learn tips for peers.
  • Plan activities. Build on your loved one’s remaining strengths and do some activities together that are enjoyable—from looking at old photo albums to listening to musical icons. The activities may be simple, but simple pleasures are worth so much when you are a caregiver.
  • Recharge your battery. Even the most loving and giving person will experience some level of fatigue and will need to take a break. Make time for some activities that bring you joy, laugh whenever you can, use the caregiver experience to learn about yourself and grow as a result, and take other steps to care for yourself—without feeling guilty.
Strategy: Balancing Caregiving and Career

If you’re currently balancing work and caregiving responsibilities, you know how hard the juggling act can be. It’s one issue that can raise a big red flag for burnout, putting your job at risk and putting your loved one’s health and your own health at risk. Learning about the increasing number of options available on the job and at home, and figuring out which of them works best for your situation can help you balance caregiving and career.

  • Look for signs at work that the balancing act is off-balance. Are you arriving late? Are you calling in sick more than usual? Are you unable to concentrate? Are you irritable?
  • Look for signs at home that the balancing act is off-balance. Are you unable to sleep? Are you depressed? Are you forgetting to do routine chores? Are you feeling overwhelmed?
  • Get educated about Alzheimer’s disease. The more you know about the disease, the more you can get a better sense of what to expect. This can help you plan how to balance career and caregiving now and down the road.
  • Find out about community resources. An adult day center can provide your loved one with a safe and stimulating environment and provide you with peace of mind during work hours. Some centers offer transportation, and open early, close late and even have overnight respite to accommodate working caregivers. Local agencies and houses of worship might have volunteers or informal caregivers who can stay with your loved one for specific hours while you’re working.
  • Hire in-home assistance. If it is financially feasible, hiring a home health aide to assist with your loved one during work hours can help you stay focused.
  • Consider alerting your employer. Carefully weigh your decision to speak to your employer about your personal responsibilities and review your employee manual about available policies, benefits and services that might help your situation. Pay attention to possible changes in health and other benefits if you adjust your work schedule.
  • Check out employee assistance programs. These programs typically provide free educational materials, workshops, resources and confidential referrals to support services, which may include eldercare services.
  • Explore workplace options. Typical options that might help with caregiving responsibilities include: limited or unlimited paid or unpaid leave to provide eldercare without jeopardizing their jobs—while the Family and Medical Leave Act does not specifically require leave for eldercare, it does include leave for a family member with a serious medical condition; telecommuting or working from home; flextime or adjustable work hours; sharing a position with a co-worker by working alternating hours; and flexible spending accounts, in which employees set aside a tax-deductible portion of their salaries to pay for qualified expenses, such as medical care and services for dependents.
  • Get organized at home. Make a calendar and prioritize activities; delegate tasks among family members and identify who can help cover for you if something comes up during your workday; and keep all important phone numbers and medical documents in an easily-accessible place.
  • Maximize your lunch break. Use this time to take care of your own needs—such as taking a walk, socializing with friends or making non-work related calls, including scheduling doctors’ appointments.
  • Maintain your own health. Get enough sleep and exercise, follow a healthy diet, socialize with friends and family, and squeeze in time to do other things for yourself.

FAQ (to AFA’s social services team)

FAQ: Coping with Stress

Q. How do I cope with the stress and grief that I am experiencing?

A. You are not alone. Caregivers face a tremendous risk for stress and burnout. Family caregivers often put aside their own rest and recreation in order to devote all their attention to the person with the disease. Providing care, whether it is physical or emotional, can be very strenuous upon the body if it is not given the opportunity to de-stress.

It is important to acknowledge these feelings as early as possible in order to deal with them and avoid potential burnout in the future. You need to take care of yourself in order to provide the best care to your loved one. Although circumstances vary from caregiver to caregiver, there are general ways to improve your well-being.

First, you need to have sufficient energy. This can come from eating nutritious meals, getting plenty of rest, exercising on a weekly basis and participating in favorite activities.

It is also critical to have some time away from your loved one—and focus on nothing but “you” for a while. Even a mere hour to yourself to get a massage, watch a TV show, take a stroll in the par, or have lunch with a friend can do the trick.

There is no question that dealing with grief and loss is very painful. Although it takes time for a person to heal, support from others, both professionals and peers, can help the process. Being with caregivers who have faced similar situations is an extremely therapeutic method of dealing with this kind of pain. Joining a support group in your area is a great way of accessing that help. With peers, you can hear what others are doing in similar situations and you can safely and confidentially unload some of the intense emotions brought on by caregiving. They also provide you with much needed socialization.

If you continue to feel overwhelmed by grief and note symptoms of depression or anxiety, I encourage you to also seek professional help.

FAQ: Support Groups

Q. I just found a support group that is forming in our area, but I feel uneasy about discussing my husband’s behaviors with a group of strangers (like a betrayal). Do you have some tips on how to use a caregiver support group?

A. Let me start by telling you why support groups are a wonderful resource—often a lifesaver, in effect. Besides serving as a source of helpful tips on care strategies and services, support groups also offer a safe place to unload some of the intense emotions brought on by caregiving. By venting feelings such as frustration, anger or grief, caregivers typically gain a renewed sense of hope and calmness—and this helps offer the kindness, compassion and patience that loved ones need.

But I hear what you are saying about “betrayal.” It is not uncommon to initially feel awkward about sharing your story. Rest assured that the sessions are confidential and that the other participants and the group’s facilitator are there to support you without judgment. It’s okay to ease into the process. You can take your time in sharing your personal story until you feel more comfortable with the environment. There is no need to feel pressured to participate, although it might be more helpful to do more than just listen.

In general, try to find a group that meets at a time and location that you can easily attend for several months. It is best to find a group that is enjoyable and meaningful, and to stick with that group.  One of the most important considerations in choosing a new support group is to commit to several meetings with the group as it takes time to get accustomed to the group format, and for the other group members to get accustomed to new members. Support groups are designed to benefit the group members. Make sure to speak up if the group is not meeting your needs. For example, if every single meeting becomes purely a venting session and you do not have the opportunity to ask questions you may have, let the participants know that you also want to have the ability to tap into their expertise at times.